Left tokenism, hand waving and soporific sloganising … bound to fail

John Rentoul

tbgb Left tokenism, hand waving and soporific sloganising ... bound to failHopi Sen has stopped blogging, temporarily we hope, but continues to deploy his brilliance in, of all ghastly dark corners of the internet, the Comment Is Free comment boxes. To save you going there, I reprint his response to Neal Lawson, chair of Compass, in full here:


You’re doing some really quite remarkable rewriting of history here. I’m just not sure why, because not all of the real story reflects badly on you. But I don’t see why you are painting yourself as a passive observer when in fact you were a champion of a particular vision of what Brown might be as PM.

So for example, in an article entitled “Gordon the brave could do what Tony never managed” from May 2005, immediately after the last election, you argued :

“The election forced Tony Blair to say that he will listen and change. But if he was listening, he would know that the electorate and the Labour party want Gordon Brown to have his job. Gordon is a Labour giant. He has enormous energy, commitment and intellectual ability. ”

Now, let’s be clear – you also argued that to fulfil his potential Brown needed to take the approach you advised then, and still advise now. I happen to think that approach is a mish mash of cobbled together left tokenism, hand waving and soporific sloganising, but heck, that’s what political debate is for, and you’re consistent in your view.

Then in May 2006 you wrote an article for The Independent called “Why we think the Prime Minister should go now” (the “we” in the title is Compass) (your description in this article was”Neal Lawson is chair of Compass, a left-of-centre pressure group, and was an adviser to Gordon Brown “. Bit late to deny it now!)’

A year later, after Compass had endorsed Gordon Brown for leader against the advice of some on the left you wrote:

“Brown is the only candidate to lead us against the Tories. Like it or not our job is to make him as electable and radical as possible. I had illusions in Blair. More fool me. I won’t [sic] that mistake again. But neither will I write Brown off. ”

You say in your comment that “honestly I never tried [to unseat Blair]. My enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend. Brownism was about control freakery and the liberation of capital – even though some of it was for good ends. It was bound to fail. I and others underestimated how quickly and badly. But there were no illusions ” It seems hard to square that with repeatedly calling for Blair to resign, getting Compass to endorse Gordon, and calling Brown brave, a giant, and the only person to lead Labour.

If Brown was about control freakery, the liberation of capital and therefore bound to fail, why did you support him in August 2007 when you said:

“Brown could be the first Labour leader since Clement Attlee to recast British society – not by taking small steps but giant leaps.” and “Brown becomes potentially the premier to oversee the transformation of British society.”

I suspect you’re right that you weren’t “plotting” – you were doing what you did, out of ideological consistency and the belief Brown would deliver some of your agenda, but the fact remains you were trying to get rid of Tony Blair and replace him with an idealised version of Gordon Brown, and it seems odd to pretend otherwise now.

In fact, your position appeared to be pretty consistent from May 2005 to Autumn 2007. You wanted Blair to go. You thought Brown wasn’t perfect but was a political giant and the right person to lead Labour, and you wanted to help him develop the new politics you have often spoken of. To that end you rallied support in the soft left of the Labour party.

Then of course, it went wrong, the illusions you had in Blair turned out to be repeated in Brown, and it looked like you had made the the same mistake again, so again, perfectly consistently you said that Brown should also resign. So why are you pretending that you barely felt a flicker of sympathy for the man, and never sought to help him achieve his ambition of becoming Prime Minister?

I have rarely read such a good debunking of the leftist mindset that thinks it has now got its party back. Again.

And we all know what happens next.

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